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Family Court

What Happens in a Family Court Trial?

Preparing to go to the Family Court? Find out what happens in Family Court to make sure you’re prepared.

Family Court

What happens in Family Court?

 

A trial in the Family Courts occurs only after various steps in the Court process have been completed.

This article is a general guide concerning certain of the major steps in family law proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The process in the Family Court of Australia is somewhat different. What happens in any particular case will depend upon its particular circumstances.

Commencing Proceedings

Unless there are circumstances of urgency (including in a parenting matter, the risk of child abuse), we suggest that you should explore other avenues for resolving family law issues before resorting to court proceedings. For example, you may have negotiations with your former partner, directly or through your solicitors or go through a mediation or collaborative law process. Generally, we recommend that court proceedings, which can be lengthy and are expensive, should be approached only as a last resort.

If you find that it is necessary to initiate an action seeking parenting orders, before filing your application, unless certain exemptions apply, you must obtain a certificate from a family dispute resolution practitioner. That certificate in then included with your application. If you do not file a certificate or an affidavit which demonstrates that the requirements for an exemption apply, the Court cannot accept your application.

There are a number of steps involved before a matter will come to trial. You have the opportunity to reach agreement with your former partner and settle your matter throughout the court process. If you do this, the Court will then issue Consent Orders which confirm your agreement with the other party. Most parties engaged in a court action will settle their matter this way. In this situation, they will not then need to go through to trial but the court action concludes with the issue of the Consent Orders.

Documents

The documents to be initially prepared and filed with the Court in property and parenting matters include:

For the person starting the Action (the Applicant)

  • An Initiating Application – This document includes any interim orders as well as the final orders that the person starting the action (the Applicant) is asking the Court to make. These orders can be orders concerning financial matters and/or maintenance or orders concerning children or both;
  • An Affidavit – This document sets out the evidence of the Applicant as to why the orders which the Applicant seeks should be made.
  • Financial Statement – This document sets out the financial information concerning the Applicant and is filed in a case where property or maintenance orders are sought.

For the Applicant’s former partner (the Respondent)

  • A Response – This document includes any interim orders and final orders that the Respondent is asking the Court to make.
  • An Affidavit – This document sets out the evidence of the Respondent as to why the orders which the Respondent seeks should be made.
  • Financial Statement – This document sets out the financial information of the Respondent and is filed in a case where property or maintenance orders are sought.

First Court Date

When the documents are filed, the Court allocates the first Court date. The time and date for this hearing is included by the Registry on the first page of the Initiating Application.

The first court date will generally be about 6 weeks after filing, allowing time for the Initiating Application to be served and for the Respondent to prepare, file and serve the response documents. The first court date may be earlier for more urgent applications.

On the first Court date, the parties advise the Court about the issues. Generally, the Court will address the following areas:h

  • Procedural Matters – The Court will make procedural orders for the further progress of the matter (such as dates by which certain steps in the proceedings are to be completed). In property cases, these orders will often include a timetable for the provision of information; the exchange of valuations and relevant documents. They will also often provide for a process for determining the assets and liabilities which comprise the net asset pool of the parties as well as for determining the value of relevant assets where value is in dispute between the parties. In property cases, the orders may also provide for conciliation conference where the parties have an opportunity to agree a final settlement or to narrow the areas in dispute. In parenting cases, the orders made at this stage may include orders requiring the delivery of a family report. This is a document which is prepared by a family report writer after he or she has interviewed each of the parents and the children (at an age appropriate level). You will find further information concerning family reports elsewhere in our blog;
  • Interim Orders – The Court will consider any interim orders that may have been sought by either party. Interim Orders may be made at that time or the Court may adjourn hearing of any argument concerning those orders to a later date.There is an opportunity on the first Court date for parties to reach agreement whether on an interim or final basis. If this occurs, the parties present the proposed consent orders to the judge requesting that they be issued whether on an interim or final basis.

Conciliation Conference

The next formal step after the first Court date in a property matter is generally the “Conciliation Conference”.

A Conciliation Conference provides the parties with a formal opportunity to negotiate and reach final agreement or to narrow the matters in issue. Even where parties cannot agree a full settlement of all matters, it may be possible to reach agreement on some issues and to clarify what issues remain in dispute.

If all issues are not settled so that the matter must proceed beyond the Conciliation Conference, further procedural directions will be made (such as dates by which certain steps in the proceedings are to be completed).

Trial

The final step in the proceeding is a trial which is held before the Judge. Each party gives their evidence and makes their submissions. The length of a trial varies dependent upon the complexity of the issues which remain in dispute at the time of trial. Unless the Judge otherwise approves, all evidence must be presented to the Court by way of affidavit.

At the final hearing, the Applicant (or his or her lawyer or Counsel) will outline the Applicant’s case and the Respondent may cross-examine the Applicant or his or her witnesses. The Applicant (or his or her lawyer or Counsel) may then re-examine those witnesses. In the same way, the Respondent (or his or her lawyer or Counsel) will outline the Respondent’s case and the Applicant (or his or her lawyer or Counsel) may cross-examine the Respondent or his or her witnesses. The Respondent (or his or her lawyer or Counsel) will have the opportunity to witnesses. You may then re-examine those witnesses.

Any independent children’s lawyer who may have been appointed may also present evidence to the Court and cross-examine witnesses. Any single experts who prepared a report may be cross-examined by the parties. For example, in a case where parenting orders are sought, parties may wish to cross-examine a family consultant may have prepared a report including certain recommendations for arrangements for children. In property proceedings, the parties may wish to cross-examine single experts who provided reports as to the value of certain assets.

Each party also has the opportunity to give a final address to the Court making final comments in support of his or her case.

Judgement

The Judge will give a decision, including reasons for the decision, following the conclusion of the parties’ respective submissions. However, the decision is often “reserved” so that judgment is not given until a later date. This is usually within three months of conclusion of the trial or at a later date where the Court has a heavy workload. Parties will be informed of the date for delivery of the decision and are required to attend at Court on that date.

Preparing to go to the Family Court can be a stressful time, but one way to reduce that stress is to feel confident and prepared on what will happen during your Family Court matter. If you need advice or are considering taking a matter to the Family Court and want legal advice, contact us. We provide free 15 minute consultations over the phone, so get in touch today.

Court Hearing

Tips for Appearing in Family Courts

Preparing for a family court hearing? It can be a stressful and emotionally-fulled time in the lead up to a court hearing. However, it’s important to know what to expect and how to prepare for your court hearing in order to achieve the best outcome.

Court Hearing

Preparing for a court hearing in family law.

This article is intended to help you whether you are representing yourself in a court hearing or are going to have legal representation. We have set out below some of the things that you should do preparing for Court as well as things to do and things to avoid in the courtroom.

Be Prepared

You will need to be sure that you have prepared and filed with the Court within the required time all of the documents that are required for your next hearing. If you are self representing, it will help you to find what you need when you are before the Court if your files are organised and clearly marked. Make sure too that you have a pen and note pad with you. If you have not been in a court before, it can help put you at your ease if you sit in a courtroom before your hearing so that you can see the court layout and understand something of the court process. Most court hearings are heard in open court so that you are permitted to enter the court.

What to wear in Court

The court is a formal place so you should dress accordingly. If you are a man, this does not mean having to wear a suit but long trousers, a shirt and appropriate shoes are a good idea. For women, a neat dress or long pants and shirt would be appropriate to wear.

Make other arrangements for your children

You should make arrangements for your children’s care for the day when you come to court. Court is not generally an appropriate place for children.

However, if as a result of a Court Order, your child needs to attend court to speak to a family consultant or judicial officer, you should check with court staff or through your solicitors in advance whether any child-care arrangements need to be made for the day.

Family and friends

You may wish to bring an adult family member or adult friend with you on the day in Court for support. There may be quite a bit of time that day spent waiting for your case to be called before the Judge or Registrar so it can be helpful to have some company. However, you should know that it is only your solicitors or if you are self represented, you, who may speak on your behalf in Court unless Court approval is obtained.

Arrive Early

We suggest that you arrive at Court at least 30 minutes before the time set down for the hearing and once there, locate the Court where your case will be heard.

There is generally a duty lawyer available (if you are eligible for assistance) to assist you on the day of your court hearing but you should be aware that their time is limited.

Inside the courtroom

The court officer or associate will generally appear outside the courtroom some time before the time that your case is set down for hearing. If you are self representing, before you enter the courtroom, you should present yourself to the court officer or associate and give them your name and let them know that you are self representing. If you have solicitors acting for you, they will inform the court officer or associate of your presence.

Once inside the courtroom, you will have to wait for your case to be called as there may be a number of cases listed on the same day. During this time, you should avoid talking whilst the Court is in session. You will need to stand each time that the Court commences or adjourns. The court officer or associate will signal the appropriate time to stand by saying ‘All rise’ or ‘Please stand’.

When your case is called and addressing the Court

When you hear the court officer or associate call your case, you should stand and sit in the place where your solicitors indicate behind them at the bar table.

If you are self representing, you should walk to the bar table as the court officer or associate directs. You will need to take your files and paperwork with you but be careful not to put any bags or cases on the bar table.

If you are self representing, you should stand whilst you and the other parties announce themselves. You announce yourself by stating your name and whether you are the applicant or respondent.
In the Family Court, either a judge or registrar will hear your case. In the Federal Circuit Court, a judge or for divorce hearings, a registrar, will hear your case. You should address a judge as ‘Your Honour’ and a registrar as ‘Registrar’.

Where you are self representing, you should stand each time that you are speaking or being spoken to in Court unless the Court directs you otherwise. You should be careful to speak clearly and politely and not to address any person other than the judge or registrar. You should not raise your voice and your face should be impartial no matter that the other party or his or her Counsel may make comments with which you do not agree.

When Orders are made and leaving the courtroom

The judicial officer will state the orders that are made and reasons given. Those orders will not be issued in hard copy until some time after the hearing so it is important if you are self representing that you write them down when they are being announced as well as reasons given. If you miss hearing part of the orders or are uncertain as to what was said, whilst you are still at the bar table, you should ask for the orders to be repeated once the judicial officer has finished speaking. If you do not understand any of the orders, you should ask the judicial officer to explain their meaning.
If a decision is reserved or held over for another time or date, you must attend court when the decision is handed down.

The Orders made will generally state the time and date for the next hearing if your case is ongoing. Once orders on a particular day are made, you can leave the bar table and the courtroom. If the Court is still in session after your matter is heard, as you leave the courtroom (and any time that you enter or leave the courtroom when the Court is in session), you should pause briefly at the door briefly and nod to the judicial officer. If your case is the last to be heard on the day, you should stand at the bar table while the judicial officer leaves the bench.

Personal Safety

If you have any worries about your safety, you should let the Court know at least two days in advance of any court date. The Court can assist with your safety when attending court. You can inform the Court by calling 1300 352 000 and speak with a Client Service Officer who will decide what arrangements are needed for your safety at Court. You must tell the Court in advance if there is a current family violence or protection order.
If you have concerns about your safety outside the Court or any questions about family violence, you should contact the police or seek legal advice about obtaining a Protection order.

If you’re looking for legal representation in a family court hearing or would like some legal advice, our family lawyers are happy to help. We even offer free 15 minute consultations over the phone.